Undergraduate Honors Thesis Projects
Uniting England’s Two Nations: The Victorian Social Problem Novel as a Medium for Sociopolitical Change
Date of Award
English Literary Studies-BA
Dr. Patricia Frick
First Committee Member
Dr. Patricia Frick
Second Committee Member
Dr. Louis Rose
Third Committee Member
Dr. Karen Steigman
Literary Studies, History, Nineteenth-Century Britain, Social Problem Novel, Issues of Class
European History | Labor History | Literature in English, British Isles | Social History
Victorian social problem novels created narratives that revealed systemic sociopolitical issues present in England beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. This thesis focuses on understanding the major concerns of social problem novels centered around the English poor and working class and how they understood and communicated these issues, generated sympathy, and offered potential solutions to their readership. By analyzing a selection of these novels published from the 1830s-1850s and contextualizing them historically, this piece argues for the validity of these novels’ political commentary and different ways of approaching societal issues. This analysis targets two critical areas of concern within social problem novels: the failure of social institutions and class experiences and interclass relations revolving around the workplace. These novels revealed critical issues that plagued the lower classes to middle- and upper-class readers who had little to no knowledge about their lived experience. This created a greater understanding and desire for reconciliation among classes and made the middle and upper classes feel that they could take personal action in helping to resolve these problems. Understanding the social problem novel gives us a window into the power of literature to impact social perceptions and inspire meaningful historical change. The novelistic desire for social change continues in the present and reading these novels allows us to see the changing approaches and understanding of social issues that persist in the present. We can use this knowledge to better understand the important interplay among history, literature, and lived experience.
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Gibson, Kat, "Uniting England’s Two Nations: The Victorian Social Problem Novel as a Medium for Sociopolitical Change" (2022). Undergraduate Honors Thesis Projects. 135.